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Monday, October 12, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Turning Point

I love the autumn. Always did. Even before living in the Hudson River Valley. And in some way, I think I have unofficially adopted this date, October 12, the day Columbus was celebrated and now indigenous peoples, as well as what was my father's birthday, as the true end of summer.

This summer was unique. Limited choices of things to do and places to go. Life on hold in so many ways. But one of the activities that focused my attention and energy on what is good and what is enduring was having my farm plot at Stony Kill Farm. I did not know how important it would be when I submitted my application this time last year and then was assigned my 20'x20' plot by the beginning of April. I realized I needed help to get the soil ready for planting and turned to my friend Eric of The Green Thumb Collective. And then because it was a hot summer and I got a late start planting the limited seedlings I could find across several different nurseries in early June, I visited my farm plot almost daily from June through September.

Everyone I saw throughout the summer spoke about how well things looked in my garden, how few weeds I had (thanks to Eric's precise preparation) and sometimes they gave advice about pruning and watering. Especially my neighbors who are the unofficial 'master gardeners' , three brothers originally from Bangladesh. They educated me about the Malabar spinach I was growing--the only spinach I could find--and spotted the hot peppers budding on the branches of what I thought was just a variety of red pepper. Had I turned over the label I would have seen that the 'Carolina Reaper'  was described as 'holding the record for hottest chili, these red fruits pack a spicy punch.' Turns out, they became gifts for my East Asian friends. My pleasure was from the tomatoes, zucchini and squash, and fresh herbs -- basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, summer savory, rosemary and hyssop -- enough for me and to share with friends -- as well as the zinnias attracting bees, swallowtails and monarch butterflies.

Food for thought:  Things grow when you tend to them. Each person works with the soil in a plot in his or her own way. Each individual 'farmer' brings home to the table that which they reap from what they sow. Everyone is connected to the same land despite the ad hoc fences that have been constructed to demarcate each individual's garden. Every time I visited my garden, I felt grounded. Grounded in my sense of being, as well as my doing. Grounded in Mother Earth. Grounded in Tillich's Ground of Being. The source of all being. The end of this season comes full circle to the beginning of the season. And the harvest has been one of abundant grace and joy.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Inner and Outer Beauty

Last week, I had the chance for yet another summer day's exploration in the Hudson Valley by scheduling an outing that has been on hold for a while, long before this ongoing pause in our lives --  a tour of Manitoga, the home and property of the designer Russel Wright, in Garrison. Tailored to a small group with all the safety precautions of masks and distance, it was the perfect day to invite a friend to join this docent-led, up-close and personal look-see around the exquisite grounds designed and nurtured by Russel Wright. Walking up the path to his home, a most unique hideaway overlooking the forest and the pond that replaced the quarry that once existed in this locale, proved that commitment, passion and the capacity to have your visiting friends help out with moving the boulders around with you, could indeed get the job done over time. It is a loving investment in what is now, an idyllic piece of property and an historic homestead that continues to nurture artists-in-residence with music and art, which melds with the setting, and feels that its legacy has a unique niche into the future. This place truly has a timeless feel to it.

We know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than write several thousand words that have already been written elsewhere about the designer and his home, I will just share some spontaenous snapshots that captured the mid-day amble through the woods, house, and  design studio, something that I would hope to return to again and again, so long as I stay nimble on my feet to navigate the stone steps and passages that are part of this serene landscape. There is a reason the website carries several caveats about the terrain; take good care.

Food for thought:  It always feels like 'a beautiful day in the neighborhood' when you can venture into the past that has been preserved for the present. The simplicity of the dinnerware design that Wright brought to his creative work was prescient as was his conservancy of the land he purchased and developed as home. The utilitarian nature of the functional liviing space and the inspired setting of his design studio is something to take with you as you leave the sanctuary known as Manitoga, from the Algonquin meaning the "place of great spirit". It has left me with the motivation to continue to create inner space that is mirrored in the simple form of the outer space, a good reminder during this time as we move towards the shortening days and lengthening nights; we all need a good place to hunker down and be still. Russel Wright was a role model in our midst for these trying times of quarantine. May we find our Manitoga at home.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Wide Open

It is time to celebrate the opening of some of the cultural institutions in the Hudson Valley. It is a good reason to support the nonprofit venues with a membership, whether it is a new one or an early renewal, for the mutual benefits of showing appreciation for the arts along with the perks that are being offered to the member. One such benefit of membership is early entry before opening day for the public, as well as continued offerings for appointment times that may not be otherwise available to the public.

I had the foresight to make an appointment to go to Dia Beacon on a members-only day prior to its scheduled opening. The appreciation of the familiar exhibits, as well as a few new ones that were installed since my last visit, was the backdrop to have conversation with the staff who were back to work after four months away from their on-site schedule, and to take in the open space and light and what I found myself calling, the 'sights of silence.'

There was a contrast between a slight sense of agoraphobia when walking in the cavernous building where some exhibits had been taken down and claustrophobia if one decided to traverse the ship-like structures of Richard Serra that contain a labyrinthine like path to a center that feels narrow and deep. The both/and of the open sense of the space as well as the movement into the contained spaces felt like a metaphor for what is being endured during this pandemic: an open-ended sense of uncertainty along with a sense of being closed down and restricted. However, they are in justaposition with each other, almost in an accordion-like fashion, so that there is both an expansive movement into the unknown with the anxiety of uncertainty followed by a limited and finite movement into the here and now.

Food for thought:  An outing, an adventure, an excursion is necessary for an outlet from the ordinary day-to-day activities during this prolonged shutdown. There are benefits to making some plans to regain a sense of control, albeit an illusion, and only within a limited context, but it is exercising choice and free will. It is good to remember that freedom comes from exercising options that are diverse and close at hand, without choosing to be unsafe or reckless, and that the arts can influence our experience in extraordinary ways during these rare times.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Transformation

Time has gone quickly. Time has slowed down. Time has come to a screeching halt. Time repeats itself. We have had all of these impressions of time as we have continued to live through this coronavirus pandemic and while witnessing the immediate and dramatic response to the obvious and persistent racial inequity in our society.

To say that these have been times to ponder life is an understatement. I thought I would continue writing and musing on this blog throughout the 'pause' imposed by our prescient governor in NYS, but I was caught up in other projects and tasks that I would prioritize daily in order to structure my time in this life transition and sense of being betwixt and between.

One such project was collecting a chair from a basement in Brooklyn to have it reupholstered and restored so that I could incorporate it into my home. I am not sure how old it is, but I think it may be at least early 19th century and possibly from the Philadelphia area where there were connections through a family member's partner. Reclaiming the chair was not as easy as I thought because of its size and awkwardness. But the serendipity was having a place of business in Beacon that remained open and could accept the work order in mid-June, so my motivation became stronger to retrieve it and haul it home.

My first visit to Denise Gianna Designs LLC at 480 Main Street while taking a stroll on Main Street in the autumn of 2019. After entering the shop filled with groupings of furniture, decorative art, and unique collectibles, I took notice that they offered upholstery services with New Life Upholestery by Amy and took some business cards after having a brief discussion to verify that this was something I could follow up on since I had this chair on my mind since the spring of 2018. I had familiarity with reupholstering some of my older furniture when living in Rockland County at S Tillim's Fabric Store and recalled the time my mother had slipcovers made for her Chippendale style living room furniture when I was growing up; I still regret not taking her wingback chair in the 1970s when offered to me. 

After finding the business cards and making contact with Amy to drop off the chair, I was pleased that I had previously ordered some Sam Moore fabric to match a piece of furniture I already had in my living space since it would not have been possible to do so in the late spring with the store closings. Luckily, my guess of how much fabric was needed was just enough to complete the chair.

Sam Moore Fabric
The workmanship of the finished chair was impeccable. Amy's work is filled with loving care and her cordiality and respect for timeless pieces was underscored by her saving the original needlework covering from the chair for me with the hope that I would appreciate the handiwork. I always appreciate tapestry needlepoint and can frequently find myself in awe of the patience and commitment that women had to complete the works of art that can withstand the test of time, another reminder that there were makers long before the maker movement. It was an unexpected and welcome gift that she thought to save it since I had not remembered to ask her to do that initially.

After some discussion about the possibility of using the preserved pieces of the needlepoint tapestry for some accent pillows, and taking the two large pieces for a thorough dry cleaning, Amy put her talents to work so that another part of the past was reclaimed and made into new life. The pillows are uniquely shaped because they were carefully placed around where wear and tear on the chair had created damage and ripped stitching. 
Amy Baker
I have visited the design studio and shop several times and love being in the workspace in the lower level where Amy is mentoring girls in her family to appreciate the work she has been called to do. I also like to be in the midst of the color and inspiration and find the lively discussions with Denise, the owner of the business, to be uplifting and a reminder for me to stay connected with the community during these times of caution and self-care. I have already recommended the business to some local friends who appreciate knowing they can support this quality business so close to home. I know I will return with some ideas for new projects and perhaps request Amy to make a pillow from my own needlepoint project that will be started as we hunker down in place this winter while awaiting safe vaccines.
Denise Gianna

Food for thought: Bringing the past into the present and feeling connected to the timelessness in objects is part of the beauty of restoration. It is a metaphor for personal transformation as well. Reclaiming. Restoring. Refurbishing. Remaking. It is an important part of this pause when we can deepen our connections to what was and what can be. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Graduating Seniors

To the Graduating Class of 2020

Be it high school, or college, there has been a unique set of circumstances that have changed your expectations related to your rite of passage and pomp and circumstance that you have worked hard and long to be able to celebrate. 


While you may not have the prom, the parties, the last semester to goof off and to hang out with individuals you may or may not have in your life as you move through your journey, you still have this very moment in time. 


As far as future plans go, you are being called on to adapt and be flexible in ways that you may not have ever thought of. 


2020 was already a catchy way of remembering this marker in your life. 


Set your sights on new horizons and never be discouraged. 


Feel the frustration, the disappointment, the feeling of being robbed of your special day. But continue to feel the joy and anticipation of your future journey. You have reached the dialectic in 2020 -- the 'both-and' rather than the either-or thinking that gets people stuck.


You will become resilient and you will learn the importance of life and you will never take any blessing for granted ever again. 


Congratulations and best of luck and wishes for all the rainbows, silver linings and new beginnings to come your way!!
Food for thought: 20-20 vision is usually about hindsight, but we now have a new meaning for this phrase: it is about having a new perspective. A perspective that will make a difference. A perspective that will serve the individual and society. A perspective that will be lasting. There is no return to 'how things were'; it is about creating a new reality for the future. 20-20 vision is a powerful metaphor for getting things right and seeing things perfectly as they are and as they can be and must be for the future of humanity.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Homage to My Mom

Even before Mother's Day weekend, I have had my mother on my mind. She grew up as a child of immigrants during the challenging times of the Great Depression. As I was growing up, I recall her telling me many times, "I hope you never have to go through what we went through." I heartfully acknowledge I am more blessed than those I worry about in these times, and I am finding ways to show that I care as my mother also taught me, but I also recall that my mother planted the seeds of good self-care and preparation in case of an emergency or tough times. While I resisted stocking cupboards and never wanted to freeze meats or fish for later use, I now see the wisdom of having the cupboards stocked with that 'extra' something(s) that you just may need. However, I mostly feel grateful for the ways that my mother cooked and how she taught me to cook; I call it 'peasant cooking', Norwegian style, and recall fondly her telling me about the soup her mother would make with a fish head and some vegetables so that she was not only able to feed her family of 5, but also have enough for those who fell on even tougher times and did not have a pot of food available to them.

So as I have been stocking my cupboards with some canned items (e.g., beans, stewed tomatoes, sardines -- only King Oscar, the best brand, grains, pasta and staples for baking) and starting to freeze 'leftover' meals so that I can spread out the goodness without having to eat the same meal on a daily basis (e.g., baked ziti, lentil soup), I am thankful for the know-how of cooking from scratch and the memories of my mother's table.

Today I made a variation of her beef stew with tastes of Beef Burgundy and Hungarian Goulash with what I had on hand: shallots, celery, potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, red wine, chicken broth,  paprika,  garlic powder, salt and pepper and some herbs de Provence. It was inspired by the arctic freeze and snow on Mt. Beacon and was perfect as a midday meal while listening to the Saturday matinee opera on the radio. The beef was purchased at Nature's Pantry on Rt. 52 in Fishkill (since I am not yet ready to embark on the search for the local farms offering local meats just yet vis-a-vis my new intention--see previous post on 5/3/20); the meat is still a local product and for 4 servings, is very reasonable and was very tender! And with the receipt of my new subscription to Misfits Market today, I am beginning to envision my next 'peasant meal.'

Food for thought: There are just some things that will always be remembered; Mother's cooking and wishes for her children are just some of them. And remembering them this weekend in the midst of other thoughts, feelings, and issues that can be on one's mind, makes it more the special as they 'stew'. For those who are moms, for those who aren't, for those who still have a mom, for those whose moms are resting in peace --- Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Belonging to Boscobel

Within our 'neighborhood' surrounding Beacon, we have the majestic historical landmark, Boscobel, which as noted by the signs on Route 9D, can be everyone's 'home on the Hudson.' I am pleased that I became a 'friend' in 2010 and have maintained membership throughout the years, which is a small way to support its operation. I have been on at least five tours with various docents, with our without visitors or guests that I have brought along and learn something new during each visit; volunteered at holiday and special events on the grounds and within the house when extra help is needed;  and visited the gift shop frequently for special purchases for myself or others, which have made the best gifts all around. (I have also attended ten seasons of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF) under the tent on the grounds overlooking the Hudson River with its iconic vista of West Point.) So in these times, when the opening of the house and grounds for guided tours is on 'pause' and the notification to ticketholders that the 2020 season of HVSF has been cancelled, it was a real treat to be 'invited' as a member to consider the privilege of making a visit to the grounds by appointment when I recently received an email. It turned out to be a picture perfect day and the pictures tell it all.

Food for thought: Please consider a membership as a way of suppporting this nonprofit organization in our midst. It is not too late to join for this season. I recently learned that it takes $3000 per day to maintain its operations. The Federalist level is $150 per year with season pass benefits and discounts for the gift shops and other events in addition to admission with four passes for the house tours and grounds privileges. It is a worthwhile donation. It is the neighborly thing to do. Especially now. You will not want to miss the view and sense of peaceful renewal that the landscape offers. And you will feel good about contributing to our local treasure. If you are already a member, consider purchasing a membership as a gift for a friend or family member to appreciate the history in our midst.